Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Review: Uncomfortable

Uncomfortable. Brett McCracken. 2017. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence of the introduction: If you could dream up the perfect church, what would it look like?

First sentence of chapter one: There was at least a four-year gap between when I prayed to ask Jesus to be my Savior, and when I publicly confessed him as such in my church and asked to be baptized. That’s how much of an introvert I am.

Premise/plot: To sum it up simply, the premise of this one is that church is not about you and what you want; it is not about your comfort level. (It's not about any one person's wants.) Church is NOT a product to be consumed--packaged, repackaged. From the introduction, "Church shouldn’t be about being perfectly understood and met in our comfort zone; it should be about understanding God more, and meeting him where he is." McCracken continues in chapter one, "We grow most when we are outside of our comfort zones. We are more effective when we are on the edge of risk. We hold beliefs more dear and pursue goals more passionately when they are accompanied by a cost."

The first part is "Uncomfortable Faith." It consists of seven chapters: "Embrace the Discomfort," "The Uncomfortable Cross," "Uncomfortable Holiness," "Uncomfortable Truths," "Uncomfortable Love," "Uncomfortable Comforter," and "Uncomfortable Mission." The second part is "Uncomfortable Church." It consists of seven chapters: "Uncomfortable People," "Uncomfortable Diversity," "Uncomfortable Worship," "Uncomfortable Authority," "Uncomfortable Unity," "Uncomfortable Commitment," and "Countercultural Comfort." My favorite chapters were "Uncomfortable Holiness" and "Uncomfortable Love."

My thoughts: I loved this book. I think the book is definitely needed. I think the concept of church is radically misunderstood by believers and unbelievers. I think there have been several generations--at least--that have grown up believing that church was ALL about them: what they wanted, what they liked, what felt right to them. A culture had developed where it's perfectly normal to church hop your entire life and never commit to any one church for any serious length of time. I think the book is thought-provoking and rich in insight. I know those phrases can be so overused that they become meaningless. But I will give you examples to back up my claims.

Consider this paragraph from the introduction:
Commitment even amidst discomfort, faithfulness even amidst disappointment: this is what being the people of God has always been about. Imagine if God were as fickle and restless as we are. But he isn’t. God’s covenant faithfulness to his people, even when the relationship is difficult and embarrassing, should be instructive to us. A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and a nonconsumerist covenant.
I do not want to imagine a fickle God. Do you? God is faithful, good, true, gracious, and merciful. We are not. We are fickle and restless, discontent with everything, unthankful. We take God for granted. And take the church for granted too. The idea that church membership is like a covenant is a foreign concept. Though the Bible tells us in Old Testament and New that the church is God's bride--the imagery of marriage is consistent in both Testaments--we are content ignoring that for the most part. We are content giving God a little of ourselves when God demands the whole heart. We are uncomfortable with that.

Here are some of the insights that are worth coming back to again and again:

  • "Choosing Jesus is choosing resurrection, freedom, redemption, salvation, and eternal life. We musn’t forget this. Christianity is not a faith of self-loathing, fetishizing persecution, and adopting a martyrdom complex. Christianity is not about seeking out suffering; it’s about seeking first the kingdom of God. It’s not about celebrating our pain and brokenness; it’s about celebrating our redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ."
  • "Following Jesus means putting aside our own desire to be God and allowing him to reign supreme in us and for us."
  • "The Christian life is not a call to be true to yourself. It’s a call to deny yourself, or at least to deny those parts of yourself that are incompatible with the human type we should all aspire to imitate: Jesus Christ."
  • "One of the uncomfortable things about Christian love is that it isn’t always nice. It doesn’t always look like tolerance. On the contrary, love is sometimes about discipline and speaking truth, even when it hurts. This again is about sacrifice—the sacrifice of potentially offending someone you care about. But even if it is met with shame or discomfort, this sort of love is undeniably loving, for it has the person’s best interests in mind."
  • "Compassion does not mean we give up our convictions, and holding firm to truth does not mean we live without love."
  • "The first sin and the root of all subsequent sin is the idolatry of self. It is pride, autonomy, control; the inability to accept rules or restrictions on one’s freedom. It is knowing the law and disobeying it anyway; knowing God exists and yet not honoring him as Lord (Paul lays it out well in Romans 1:18–32). It is believing we are on par with God and that we needn’t defer to his authority."
  • "Too often we start not with God’s authority but with ours, conveniently turning Scripture into a proof text or a weapon to be wielded in support of our blueprints and agendas and preferred conceptions of God. To truly submit to the authority of Scripture is to submit our cultural lenses and worldviews and identity politics to God, prayerfully and humbly using the minds he has given us not to discover what Scripture means to me but what it means, period; not to see in it what we want to see, but what God wants us to see."

The gospel McCracken clings to--the gospel he advocates preaching and believing--is an offensive one. He calls out those who would compromise the gospel to make it more palatable, less offensive, more welcoming to anyone and everyone. The church's health--your health, my health, our health--depend on the church believing, preaching, teaching, proclaiming the truth of the gospel, the truth as revealed in the Word of God, resting confidently in the authority of Scripture. There is no spiritual health when the church separates itself from the God of Truth. The whole heart, the whole mind, the whole soul--that is what the body of Christ is called to give God.

The Bible can dose out uncomfortable medicine. It is our job to accept that uncomfortable-ness as being for our own good, and exactly what we need in order to become who we're meant to be as God's children. I'll close with this statement from the introduction: "What we think we want from a church is almost never what we need."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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